Atlanta Thrashers at the deadline

Like the Oilers blog, Copper and Blue is doing with the Northwest division, I’m going to look at teams at what teams in the Southeast Division might do this trade deadline. First I’ll review their season a bit to see where they stand and whether or not they will be buyers or sellers. Starting off alphabetically with the Atlanta Thrashers, who I saw possibly making the playoffs this year and for most of the season, it looked like that would happen. However, they have been falling out of the picture lately and sit 4 points out of the #8 spot in the East. Sportsclubstats.com had their playoff odds at 75% only 25 days ago and now it’s down to 10%. What exactly happened here?

Atlanta’s been surrendering a lot of shots all season long and they are currently last in the league in shots allowed per game. 2011 hasn’t been kind to Atlanta at all. They are 5-10-4 in Janurary and February so far after going 20-15-6 for the first three months. You can attest a lot of it to the play of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who still has an impressive even strength save percentage of .934 but over the last two months, his save percentage has only been .876, a noticeable drop off.

Atlanta gives up a lot of shots, but they also generate a considerable amount of offense as they are 11th in goals per game and 14th in shots per game. Evander Kane is on pace for at least a 20 goal season (17 goals, 35 points right now) and Atlanta’s top six has been pretty solid all year at getting the puck moving in the right direction

NAME        Ozone% Fin Ozone%
KANE        52.3    54.8
LITTLE        54.0    54.0
LADD        47.7    51.9
ANTROPOV    47.9    51.8
BERGFORS    47.0    51.7
PEVERLEY    47.2    50.2

All of these forwards also have at least 10 goals even Nic Bergfors, who has been a disappointment in my opinion. However, while they are getting offense from their top six, are they getting enough? Like I said, I thought Bergfors would have more than 11 goals at this point. Same goes for Bryan Little who only has 14. Andrew Ladd, however, has been very good as he has 21 goals, 44 points and he takes a lot of defensive zone draws. One player who isn’t listed is Anthony Stewart who has 14 goals. He’s been a nice surprise but the zone start/finish differential for him isn’t too convincing as he takes a lot of offensive zone draws and usually can’t keep the puck in.

On the back end, their most publicized player is Dustin Byfuglien, who they recently gave a 5-year $26 mil contract. I do not think Byfuglien is a Norris candidate and what Atlanta gave him is a huge overpayment but I do give the Thrashers credit for one thing; they know his strengths and use them to the team’s advantage. Byfuglien has a big shot and was really effective in Chicago because he had good linemates. Atlanta mainly uses Buff on the powerplay and at even strength almost as a fourth forward. Nearly all of his zone starts are in the offensive zone but he has done a solid job of creating offense all season from the blue-line. He’s definitely one of the reasons why their powerplay is 8th in the NHL. Early in the season, this method worked very well but it’s cooled down as of late. In 2011, Byfuglien only has 5 goals in 19 games. Still, the Thrashers have a great top 4 defensive corps with him, Enstrom, Bogosian and Oduya but after that, it gets ugly which might explain the acquisition of Stuart. He’s definitely a slight upgrade over Ron Hainsey and Brent Sopel, at least.

Trades:
Ben Eager to San Jose for a 5th rounder

Rich Peverely ($1.325 for 2 years) and Boris Valabik ($800k for one year) for Blake Wheeler ($2.2 mil for one year) and Mark Stuart ($1.675 mil for one year)  BOS 3.45 mil, ATL $3.875 mil

It’s a tough to say who “wins” that Peverley trade now but I have to give the edge to Boston since they acquired a solid, cheap forward in Peverley. I actually think Atlanta trading him was a bad move since he’s been fantastic at generating offense and is very versatile. He also plays tough minutes on the team and gets matched up with opponents top lines often. Wheeler still has a lot of potential but he has been kind of a disappointment since his rookie season. He is also a RFA at the end of the season, so if he impresses the Thrashers for the rest of the year, then they can lock him up for a couple more years. Now, that’s depending on if Atlanta want to lock him up or not because this is the same organization that let Maxim Afinogenov walk after a good season. Stuart and Valabik don’t matter much to me in this trade other than Boston getting rid of a contract. Stuart might be useful to the Thrashers since he was a solid penalty killer for the Bruins and Atlanta has the worst PK in the NHL. Stuart’s injury issues are a concern, though. As far as the money involved goes, Boston saves about $400k overall.

I’m not entirely sure what this indicates about Atlanta’s position at the trade deadline since they are only 4 points out of the #8 spot in the East and clearly aren’t done yet but I think Atlanta wants to take a chance on Wheeler and thought they could get some value out of Rich Peverley since Boston wanted him. It’s kind of an odd move considering Peverley’s given a lot to Atlanta for what they are paying him but the gamble could work in their favor if Wheeler plays well.

The Big Picture:
Top 3 Forwards: Antropov, Kane, Little $9,545,833 (28% of total salary)
Middle 6 Forwards: ???, ???, Burmistrov, ???, ???, Slater $2,500,000 (7% of total salary)
Top 4 Defenders: Byfuglien, Enstrom, Oduya, Hainsey $16,950,000 (50% of total salary)
Goaltending: Pavelec, Mason $3,000,000 (9% of total salary)
Bottom 8 Players: Cormier, Stapelton, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? $1,379,166 (4% of total salary)
Total:
$33,374,999

Pending free agents:
UFA: Modin, Thorburn, Boulton, Sopel, Stuart, Meyer
RFA: Ladd, Wheeler, Bergfors, Machacek, Stewart, Bogosian

I have to think that the Thrashers will be buyers at this deadline even with the recent skid they’ve been on. It wouldn’t make much sense for the Peverley/Wheeler trade to be one made for the future considering Wheeler’s contract expires next year. As it stands right now, Atlanta would be nowhere close to the salary floor next season if they let all of their free agents walk. If they were having a fire sale (which they aren’t), I would think they would try to get value out of guys like Bogosian and Ladd but I think they will probably re-sign those two if anything. Bogosian’s been in trade rumors but Atlanta will probably only trade him if they can get a big return even if he’s having a down season. He will probably want a raise from the $3.5 mil he’s making this season and Atlanta already has half of their salary next year tied up in their blue line thanks to Byfuglien and Hainsey’s ridiculous contracts. Atlanta has more than enough cap space right now but they might be better off spending the money on their shallow forward corps or re-signing players like Ladd, Bergfors or going the free agency route. I have to think that Stewart will at least get a one-year extension to see if he can build on this season.

Antropov is also someone I could see being traded but he’s 31, having a rough season and has kind of a bad contract so I don’t think he would generate a big return. We’ve had some weird trades this deadline like the Avs/Blues trade involving Erik Johnson so Atlanta moving Bogosian wouldn’t be completely out of the question. Regardless, I see the Thrashers possibly being a bubble playoff team next year as well. Pavelec is still young and hasn’t reached his peak yet but I think he played over his head to start out the year and the Thrashers give up too big of a shot total for him to keep up that level of play. It would definitely help if Kane keeps improving and if Burmistrov has a great sophomore season. He has shown flashes of greatness but his numbers are definitely underwhelming. This is a solid team which struggles with consistency.

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